Teamsters hold rally over contract dispute with Penn State

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ)–Wednesday, members of Teamsters Local 8, the union representing 2,700 skill trade workers across Penn State University campuses, held a rally outside the HUB at the University Park–claiming PSU violated its contract with the union.

Currently, about 1,600 PSU employees, that are Teamsters members, are at home after being temporarily furloughed by Penn State. These employees are still receiving 50% of their salary.

But, PSU has brought in other contract workers to complete projects on campuses, while the 1,600 Teamsters remain at home. The Teamsters claim the contract workers, in some cases, are completing the same work Teamsters employees could and should be doing. The union says this is a breach of contract.

“The work that they’re doing right now is the work that we could be doing on this campus,” said Jonathan Light, President of Teamsters Local 8. “They had plumbers in here fixing drains… they’re doing the work we can do…it’s very frustrating… it shows to us a lack of respect for the workers here.”

Wednesday’s rally, attended by a total of about 10 (so as to follow Covid-19 assembly guidelines) included Teamsters employees, Michael Pipe, Chair of the Centre County Commissioners, Tor Michaels (speaking on behalf of Rep. Scott Conklin (D), PA 77th District) and Bill Hamilton, President of the Pennsylvania Teamsters Conference, and Vice President of the International Teamsters Eastern Region.

Collectively, they asked for one thing: “All they have to do is bring us back to work,” Light said.

The union sees PSU’s temporary furloughs–currently applying to 1,600 Teamsters–as more than what the University called “pay cuts” when they announced the temporary furloughs (continuing to pay half their salary) starting May, 4.

“They didn’t tell the press and everyone else, it is a full layoff…a bump in rights, we had people who had to take lower grade jobs, had to take less salary… it had a financial impact,” Light said. “They’re still not getting anything paid to their pension, any sick time, or vacation time.”

He said this impacts not just truck drivers, but a wide variety of employees on campus. Including: janitors, house keeping, food service, plumbing, electrical work, and mail delivery.

Light said when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf allowed contractors to go back to work, PSU brought them back… but the Teamsters heard nothing.

“They started bringing contractors in saying it wasn’t Covid related. But they’re saying our layoffs are Covid related. But contractors are doing the same work we’re doing—Covid’s not stopping them from coming into work, it’s stopping us from coming into work,” Light said.

Penn State said the contractors they brought-in were from agreements made before Covid-19. The University said union workers were never intended to work on these projects, so therefore PSU feels there’s no violation of their contract with the Teamsters’.

Below is the full statement PSU sent to WTAJ on the matter:

“These are projects that were contracted by the University through competitive bid prior to the COVID-19 crisis.  Union members were not working or expected to work on these projects prior to the COVID-19 crisis. They were approved consistent with our union agreement.  

Penn State also is working to return all of our workforce consistent with Gov. Tom Wolf’s phased reopening plan for Pennsylvania. This process will take time, and start slowly.  We hope of course to return to more normal on-campus operations as soon this is possible, and are working hard to do that, consistent with public health and government safety directives.  We understand the challenges faced by union and non-union employees who do not currently have jobs they are able to do because of COVID-19, and continue to support them, as previously announced.”

Light’s response: “Their answer was these are old contracts we had to honor them… but they don’t want to honor ours… it seems like they don’t respect our contract and just want to deal with it through the grievance procedure.”

Under PSU’s contract with the Teamsters, contractors can be brought-in to do certain types of projects.

Light claims contractors can be brought in to do any work that the teamsters can’t/don’t do.

“Obviously we don’t build buildings… we’re not talking about the contractors building buildings, we’re talking about the renovation work, the remodeling work–that’s our work,” he said.

“Penn State is hiding behind contractors that they feel they have some kind of inert responsibility to… and they don’t. They have a responsibility to honor the contract they signed with the teamsters.” Hamilton said.

He added: “They’re getting a bum’s rush up here because Penn State has the assets, they have the money to work the people…they’re working contractors in the same positions they worked our members. There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t proceed with calling these members back to work–placing them back where they belong–putting them back in full time status. It’s time to come back to work. If our members don’t get back to work, I will be in Harrisburg next week.”

More details

The Teamsters say if workers aren’t brought back by June, 30, they’ll be laid-off without pay from Penn State.

June, 15 is when PSU will make a decision on whether or not students will be back on campus for the 2020 Fall Semester. The Teamsters say this could be a large factor in determining if all union employees return to work.

Penn State said they want to return employees to work as soon as they can (in a safe manner). But, they said this process is slow right now.

The University added that while 1,600 Teamsters who work for PSU are at home on temporary furlough right now, there are more than 1,000 Teamsters-who are actively working on different campuses.

Light said they should all be back.

“First off I’d like then to honor our contract…if they can’t have us back, they can’t have the contractors back… that’s number one. Bring out people back. Follow the contract. Penn State, at the end of 2019, over 7 billion dollars in unrestricted assets. They have the money to weather the storm. They should bring us back, have the workers do their work, and they can still get done what they have to get done,” Light said.

He told WTAJ the Teamsters have made two attempts to speak with PSU leadership about their grievances, including President Eric Barron, but have received no response.

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